Jay Magidson has dwelled in the art world for years, dealing with the artists and the buyers of some of the finest contemporary art in the United States. From his own gallery in downtown Aspen, CO, to his current position at Ann Korologos’s gallery in Basalt, Jay has had a long and successful career using his skilled eyes and vast knowledge of art. He seems to have a strong notion as to what works and what doesn’t in the visual realm.
Jay also happens to be a writer, and in everything I’ve read by him, I get a distinct sense of Jay’s visual sensibilities and acumen. His writing is among the most vivid and visually STUNNING of all of my peers. And in his current collection of short fiction, Colors, he hits SEVERAL monumental pinnacles in portraying scenes and scenery like no one else I know.
Does it always work? Well, no. But does it work enough to make Colors a worthwhile read? Absolutely.
Thematically, Colors varies. One of Jay’s favorite settings is in the dystopian future, but his vision of the days ahead is not singular. Using different versions of the future as a backdrop, Jay posits a variety of questions about man and man’s place in the universe: In one story, life in the future boils down to a day-by-day routine that everyone follows unquestioningly. There is no room for creativity, deviance from what is expected, or even the consciousness that one is an individual. In another story, the world is in ruins, in the dark, and we get a view of the post-apocalytic moral afflictions of one of the men who plunged it there.
There are other themes in other settings - in just a few pages, Jay makes comment on the problem of evil, the existence of free will, the nature of fear, and the consequences of selfishness. There’s nothing new here, but Jay’s approach is made fresh by his eye for effect and his uncanny ability to convey space, color, and detail.
The weakest part of Colors comes with the vignettes Jay uses to try to pull the stories into one cohesive piece. I think he’d have been better off simply leaving each story as a stand-alone, and let us inhabit them as ourselves and in our own way, rather than implying that the vignette character of Paul is there somehow, inhabiting each story’s respective protagonist in turn. Paul’s story, though vividly told - starting off strange, then moving into creepy, then veering off into terrible and surreal - actually lacks an urgency which is desperately needs. It also acts a succinct resolution. I’d be okay with no resolution were Paul’s story simply one of the many presented in Colors, but its position as GLUE makes me expect more from it.
Take Paul’s story away, though, and you have a series of tales that start off rather quiet, then build to a crescendo. And the thing which makes this volume successful, to me, is the visual power of every single scene. Even the Paul scenes are interesting in a visual sense. Jay Magidson convincingly conveys the vast and the claustrophobic, the euphoric and the melancholy, the intricate and the mundane, and he does it so that you can SEE it. Somewhere in his mind, Jay has seen it all - and he can describe it for you perfectly.
Time. Space. Eternity. All in color.
I hear people deride Twitter all the time, and I can see their point: What kind of communication can you get done in 140-character sound bites, going out and coming in at you sometimes 10 or 20 per minute? And what do such minute bits of communication mean for our overall ability as humans to convey ideas of complexity and intricacy?
Well, I’ll leave those questions right here, unanswered, because I don’t know the answers. What I do know is that Twitter can be infuriating, tiresome, and inane, but it can also - if you open yourself up to the community it creates - introduce you to things of beauty and substance that you might otherwise miss.
I’ve never met Ben Rubin, who goes by the Twitter moniker of @ghostofthemoon, but as I grew my Twitter community of fellow poets and writers and artists, I came across him, and took special note of the iconography on his Twitter page. Something about it intrigued me.
Now, I have to admit that there’s a lot of noise on Twitter - noise which may be its eventual downfall - and sometimes it’s hard to rise above that noise. Over the weeks after I followed Ben, however, his posts came to the fore for me, and I began to take special notice of him and what he had to say. This drove me to his site, sort of like I hope that my posts on Twitter might have driven YOU here.
And once I was at his site, I was so struck by the book he was offering that I had to have it. And once I had it, I was happy - happy that such a strange thing of beauty could exist in our world of instant information and gratification, happy that I’d taken the initiate to find such a work, and happy that I had found it through such a supposedly unlikely path.
When Comes What Darkly Thieves is a picture book fairy tale, and Ben Rubin is foremost an artist who excels in collage and photography. What makes this entry into literature and art so masterful is that he has established a pervasive mood, which he never deviates from and which never leaves you as the reader (and inadvertant protagonist of the story, since it’s in second person) dissatisfied.
When you see the images (and many of them are readily available on Rubin’s site at http://buttondownbird.com/), you’ll see what I mean. They are a strange mix of chaotic and ordered, exotic and mundane, nightmarish and beautiful, alien and comforting. And while I wouldn’t have made some of the grammar or punctuation choices Ben made in the adjoining tale - which is a surreal mini-adventure involving blind Gypsies, magical moonbeams, swingsets, and lumps in the carpet - it blends fantastically well with the images, which ARE the chief draw here, the main thing that I believe you should be paying attention to.
As an avid reader of WORDS, I don’t have a lot of picture-centric books on my shelves. But I assure that right now, When Comes What Darkly Thieves is there alongside all the other books in my collections, and I will display it proudly, for I think it’s quite a find. And I think the way I found it speaks volumes about how we conduct ourselves in the 21st century - how we go about finding things both beautiful and ugly, assuring and disturbing, humorous and not.
I also think that in Ben Rubin, I found a fellow artist that I’ll be happy to follow (on Twitter and otherwise) for a long time.
You can find When Comes What Darkly Thieves via the Button-down Bird web site in an e-book format, and perhaps hardcover. If you can find a hardcover copy, I recommend it, even in this age of electronics.
Those of you who come by this site often enough know that sometimes I feel compelled to write something personal - about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and how I feel about it all.
You also probably know that I TRY to post something at least once a week, if not more often, and that I’ve been pretty regular for almost three years. Now, scroll down and you’ll see that the last time I posted was January 27th - almost two weeks ago. And I haven’t been on vacation or away from my office. I’ve been here.
The lack of communication on this site is only a symptom of a larger issue. I’ve also been slack on a number of other fronts - promoting my published stories, editing my novel which is scheduled to come out this year, submitting to other publications, stuff like that. This little post I’m writing now is to explain why. I say it’s my excuse , but really I don’t NEED an excuse - I’m one of the hardest working cats you know. Really, I’m writing this because I need to organize how I feel about the last two months, and I need to share it.
Basically, all those things I listed above have been prioritized lower because of three circumstances which have come about since early December.
First, my wife’s grandmother died. Now, while this may seem sort of irrelevant (although it still probably strikes you as sad), here’s why it’s not. Irrelevant, that is.
You see, Granna had two daughters - Linda and Paula. Linda is my mother-in-law who lives about 20 minutes away, and Paula is my aunt-in-law who lives right around the corner. Whenever they come around, I can often take time out from the kids and house chores, and use that time to write, organize, and promote myself.
I didn’t realize how much I relied on Paula and Linda until they became distracted by their mother’s death.
Simultaneously to Granna’s passing, my own mother had a run-in with pneumonia and a hernia. Mom is a dedicated smoker with a history of emphysema and bronchitis, so you can imagine how nasty and scary a run-in with pneumonia might be for her. She also has severe osteoporosis and a lot of scar tissue in her abdomen from cancer surgery she had when she was in her 30s. So the hernia was pretty hellish, too.
Take my mom out of the “helping me out” picture and add the stress of nearly losing her, and you begin to imagine how touch-and-go the last two months have been.
The second thing that’s happened is that Aida (my wife) changed contracting positions. For a couple of years now, she’s been an employee of my company - the most gainfully employed employee, I might add. The shitty economy and the less in-demand profession I chose for myself means she’s been our major breadwinner in recent years, while I’m the “supplemental income” person. I do take pride in the fact that it’s MY company, but still….
This new contracting position has had two effects. One is that the company we’re contracting for has put us through a few more hoops than previous contracts ever did. Since it IS my company, that’s meant I’ve had to step up and install several business infrastructural things that I’ve never had to install before, and doing that takes time. Fucking bank and government bureaucracy can get ridiculous.
The other effect is that Aida’s putting in lots more hours than she did at the previous gig, which means that I have to pick up the slack at home. Without the usual help from Linda, Paula, and my mom, that’s a tall order. Thank God my kids are getting to an age where they’re more self-sufficient - I don’t have to wipe butts or dress anyone anymore - but I still have to cook and help with homework and harass the kids to do things. Pretty much after 3 p.m. on weekdays, my writing work is done.
Finally, I realized during the holidays that, while the published stories were selling admirably, while this web site has been doing what it’s supposed to, and while my presence in the world of social media and marketing has solidified, I hadn’t been taking enough time to CREATE. I’ve said it time and time again that the reason I DO THIS is because I feel a compulsion to create art and to share it - and while the sharing part has been satisfactory, I haven’t MADE much stuff. I have a two new novel ideas, a graphic novel, two short stories, two poems, and a screenplay that I started working on in 2011. None of them have seen much progress since September.
So while I’ve been a little remiss on promoting the published stories (and my sales have reflected my neglect), and while this site got spotty there for a while, I HAVE actually moved forward on some of those projects. I’ve created. In the nooks and crannies, when I find time away from the kids and the business and the internet, I make up stuff. And it’s good.
There you go. Probably more information about my life right now than you thought you’d get on a chilly Thursday morning in February, but I needed to put it out there, and I feel better for doing so.
That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.